Starting with me, because I clearly did not post this last night.
The back of the book promised simpler food for the home cook, which was welcome after my experiences with The French Laundry. I chose pan-seared monkfish (which became catfish) with romesco sauce and melted leeks. And a brief two hours, one roasting pan, two pots, two skillets, an ice bath, a cooling rack and a FoPro later, I had dinner. Simple!
I started off with the veg for the romesco; some dried pasilla chiles got put in hot water to reconstitute, while plum tomatoes, a red bell pepper, onion and garlic went into a 400 degree onion to roast and caramelize and generally become more delicious (which Fresh Direct’s wan tomatoes needed).
While the veg roasted, I dealt with the leeks.
Can I be honest with you? I just drank a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy (beer + lemonade), and I am one and a half sheets to the wind. I am WEAK. This is a sad night.
Anyway, leeks. Melted leeks are no small affair: First, cut them into rounds and wash them, being careful to keep the rings together. Then blanch them in heavily salted water, again being careful not to agitate them so the rings stay together. Then plunge them into an ice bath for NO MORE than 15 seconds (I didn’t count…whoopsie) before arranging them on a paper-towel covered cooking rack.
As they cooled, I made the butter that makes them melty. You can’t merely melt some butter, because that’s too easy. Rather, you have to bring a scant three tablespoons of chicken stock to a simmer and then whisk in a stick of butter, one chunk at a time, until you have a buttery emulsion in which you toss your leeks.
I have no idea how you’re supposed to keep your leeks together throughout this whole process, because once they’re blanched the rings no longer hold together tightly; there was no way to get them all coated in butter without breaking them up.
Oh well. I didn’t care that much then, and now, post-beer, I hardly care at all!
With the leeks done and the veg still in the oven, I turned to the other components of the sauce: bread, which has to be toasted on all sides in a hot pan and canola oil, and slivered almonds, also toasted. Because god forbid an ingredient go unadulterated in some way. But I follow directions, so I did it.
Okay, I lied again. I would blame the drink, but I wasn’t drinking at the time: I didn’t follow all the directions. When the veg came out of the oven, I did not wait for them to cool down so they could be peeled, I just chucked them, hot and skin-laden, into the FoPro along with the waiting chiles, paprika and the juices that had accumulated during roasting. Keller’s romesco was a vibrant shade of orange-red; mine was a little more poop-colored because of the dark raisin-colored pasilla chiles. Probably also because of the darkened roasted pepper skin, so I guess I have no one to blame but myself.
One beer, and I’m sweating like a goddamn pig. This is a problem.
Once the veg were blended, the bread and nuts went in along with some sherry vinegar. I had to break the bread up manually, so I’m not sure why he didn’t have me cut it into smaller pieces to begin with, but I’m not the world-renowned chef. I’m just the lowly home cook who wants to eat dinner before 9:30 at night. I guess I should just be happy that I didn’t have to strain the sauce through an ever-finer succession of sieves and china caps, culminating in the world’s finest tamis that has to be special ordered from a sect of blind monks who make them by hand.
I’m being very complainy, aren’t I? That, I CAN blame on the beer. The single beer. The single beer, that was part lemonade, that has had such a devastating effect on both my verbal and motor skills.
Sauce done. Leeks done. It was fish time.
My fishmongers, AKA Fresh Direct, didn’t have any monkfish this week, so I used the power of the interwebs to tell me that catfish, which was available, was an acceptable substitute. God bless the internet. Do you remember when we had to look things up in books? Man, that sucked.
I laid my fish into a smoking hot pan, and after a few minutes added some butter, let it melt and brown a little, and started basting the fish with it. After a few minutes, I flipped the fish, leaving only 1/4 stuck to the bottom of the pan, and kept basting until it was cooked through. Luckily, I was able to pry up one filet cleanly enough to make a (somewhat) decent-looking plate.
Okay, it’s maybe not the prettiest plate in the world, and maybe I complained a lot and was cranky at the end of the night, but this was a damn fine dinner. The romesco was flavorful and smoky, with just a hint of heat. The fish was perfectly cooked and buttery, what with being covered with butter and all.
But the leeks.
Oh, the leeks.
I take back any curses I may have aimed at the leeks for their seemingly unnecessarily lengthy cooking process. I never knew leeks could be so sleek and luscious and sweet; oh, so, sweet. These leeks were obscenely, wonderfully, orgasmically good. Melted leeks are my new crack.
The moral of the story is, you should buy this book and make these leeks. Make a lot of them, and eat them with everything.